Sergei Bulgakov

Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov (/bʊlˈɡɑːkəf/;[1] Russian: Серге́й Никола́евич Булга́ков; 28 July [O.S. 16 July] 1871 – 13 July 1944) was a Russian Orthodox Christian theologian, philosopher, priest and economist.

Sergei Bulgakov
Mikhail Nesterov's Philosophers (1917), Pavel Florensky and Sergei Bulgakov (right)
Born28 July 1871
Died12 July 1944(1944-07-12) (aged 72)
Alma materMoscow University
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionRussian philosophy
SchoolChristian philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of religion


Early life

Sergei Nicolaevich Bulgakov was born on 16 July 1871 to the family of an Orthodox priest (Nikolai Bulgakov) in the town of Livny, Oryol guberniya, in Russia. The family provided Orthodox priests for six generations, beginning in the sixteenth century with his ancestor Bulgak, a Tatar.[2][3][4] Metropolitan Macarius Bulgakov (1816-1882), one of the major Eastern Orthodox theologians of his days, and one of the most important Russian church historians, was a distant relative.[5]

He studied at Orel seminary, where he became interested in Marxism and took part in the Legal Marxism movement. He left the seminary the year before he was to graduate, and it would be many years before he recovered his faith. He went on to study at Yelets gimnasium, and in 1894 he graduated from the Law School of Moscow University, where he had also undertaken a serious study of political economy.

In 1898 Bulgakov married Elena Ivanovna Tokmakova, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.[6]

Under the influence of works of Russian religious thinkers (Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Vladimir Solovyov, etc.), in the course of his meetings and arguments with Leo Tolstoy he found his religious beliefs again. He wrote a book about his evolution (Sergey Bulgakov, From Marxism to Idealism, 1903). Such an evolution was common for the Russian intelligentsia of the time, and he soon became one of their recognised ideologists. A primary contributor to the books Problems of Idealism (1902), Vekhi, Problems of Religion, About Vladimir Solovyev, About the Religion of Leo Tolstoy, The Religion of Solovyov's Philosophical Society, he participated in the journals New Way (Новый Путь) and Questions of Life (Вопросы Жизни). He was a leader of the publisher Way (Путь, 1911–1917), where he printed many important works of contemporary Orthodox theology.

From 1906 to 1922

In 1907 he was elected as an independent Christian Socialist to the Second Duma.[7] He published the important original monographs Philosophy of Economy[8] («Философия хозяйства» 1912) and Unfading Light («Свет Невечерний» 1917), in which he first offered his own teaching based on the combination of sophiology of Vladimir Solovyov and Pavel Florensky, the later works of Schelling, and his own intuition-based ideas about the Orthodox Christian faith.

In 1918, having returned to the Orthodox Church, he was ordained to the priesthood, and rose to prominence in church circles. He took part in the All-Russia Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church that elected patriarch Tikhon of Moscow. Bulgakov rejected the October revolution and responded with On the Feast of the Gods ("На пиру богов", 1918), a book similar to the Three Talks of Vladimir Solovyov.

Bulgakov headed The Brotherhood of Saint Sophia, which existed from 1919 to 1944 (dates vary according to source). N.D. Talberg named the following as members of the Brotherhood: Fr. Sergei Bulgakov A.V. Kartashev, S.S. Bezobrazov, N.A. Berdyaev, V.V. Vysheslavtsev, S.L. Frank, V.V. Zenkovsky, Prince G.N. Trubetskoy, and P.V. Struve. His theological speculations on the Divine Wisdom provoked heated discussion: they never prevailed even in France where his influence was greatest, and were eventually condemned as heretical by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1935. For Bulgakov Theotokos St. Mary was the world soul and the “Pneumatophoric hypostasis”, a Bulgakov neologism.

During the Russian Civil War he was in Crimea, where he worked in the field of philosophy. He wrote books Philosophy of the Name ( "Философия имени", 1920) and Tragedy of Philosophy ("Трагедия философии", 1920) in which he revised his views about the relation of Philosophy to Dogmatism. He concluded that the Christian views can be expressed only by dogmatic theology. Thereafter his works were devoted to dogmatic theology.

On 30 December 1922 the Bolshevik government expelled some 160 prominent intellectuals on the so-called Philosophers' ship, Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Ivan Ilyin among them.

Bulgakov in Paris

In May 1923 he became professor of Church Law and Theology at the school of law of the Russian Research Institute in Prague.

In 1925 he helped found St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute (l'Institut de Théologie Orthodoxe Saint-Serge) in Paris, France. He was the head of this institute and Professor of Dogmatic Theology until his death from throat cancer on 12 July 1944. His last work was devoted to the Apocalypse.

He was buried in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery in the southern suburbs of Paris.


Bulgakov’s teaching on sophiology is highly controversial. The attempt to understand it properly is hindered by the highly political controversy surrounding it in the 1930s.[9]

Ecclesiastical situation in Russian Orthodoxy

By 1931, there were three separate Russian Orthodox jurisdictions in Europe: the Russian Church Abroad/Sremski Karlovtsy Synod (ROCA or ROCOR), under Met. Anthony (Khrapovitsky); "Patriarchal" Church, answering ultimately to Met. Sergius I of Moscow and had the young Vladimir Lossky as a member and the Russian Church in Western Europe, Bulgakov’s own jurisdiction as well as the church of Georges Florovsky, under Met. Evlogy (Georgievsky), under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in 1934, Met. Evlogy was privately reconciled to Met. Anthony, and in 1935, he went to Karlovtsy for a special reunion conference at which time the schism between him and ROCOR was healed.[10] In 1936, Met. Evlogy again cut his ties with ROCOR, quite possibly because of the controversy over Sophianism.[11]

Reaction to Bulgakov's writings

In the Decree on Sophianism, an ukaz of 24 August 1935 of Met. Sergius, Bulgakov’s teaching on ‘Sophia’ was described as ‘alien’ to the Orthodox faith.[12] This ukaz was largely based on the epistolary reports of Alexis Stavrovsky. He was also the president of the Brotherhood of St Photius (Alexis Stavrovskii was president; Vladimir Lossky, the vice-president, and Evgraf Kovalevskii, later Jean-Nectaire Kovalevsky of Saint-Denis, were also among the 12-15 young laymen who made up its numbers) whose members had left the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogy for that of Met. Elevthery of Lithuania. This exodus was in reaction to Met. Sergius having removed, on 10 June 1930, Met. Evlogy as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe (since Metropolitan Evlogy had continually refused to agree to the 30 June 1927 Declaration of Loyalty to the Soviet government) and named Elevthery as his replacement. In late 1935, Metropolitan Evlogy appointed a commission to look into the charges of heresy levelled against Bulgakov.

The commission quickly broke into factions. In June 1936 the majority report (prepared by Vasilii Zenkovskii, Anton Kartashov and others) rejected the charge of heresy but had serious objections about Sophiology. The minority report of 6 July 1936 was prepared by Fr Sergei Chetverikov and signed by Fr Georges Florovsky, who despite his personal respect for Fr. Sergius, remained an ardent critic of Sophianism for the remainder of his life. Meanwhile, the Church Abroad formally accused Bulgakov of heresy in 1935.

The 1935 decision of the Church Abroad was based on Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Boguchar’s Novoe uchenie o Sofii (Sofia, 1935), as well as on the arguments of St. John (Maximovitch).[13] St. John, in his book The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, discusses at length why the sophianism of Sergius Bulgakov is heresy, specifically one as destructive as Nestorianism. Speaking of those who attempt to deify the Theotokos, he wrote:

In the words [of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov], when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the Virgin Mary, she acquired "a dyadic life, human and divine; that is, She was completely deified, because in Her hypostatic being was manifest the living, creative revelation of the Holy Spirit" (Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, 1927, p. 154). "She is a perfect manifestation of the Third Hypostasis" (Ibid., p. 175), "a creature, but also no longer a creature" (P. 19 1)....But we can say with the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus: "There is an equal harm in both these heresies, both when men demean the Virgin and when, on the contrary, they glorify Her beyond what is proper" (Panarion, Against the Collyridians). This Holy Father accuses those who give Her an almost divine worship: "Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord" (same source). "Although Mary is a chosen vessel, still she was a woman by nature, not to be distinguished at all from others. Although the history of Mary and Tradition relate that it was said to Her father Joachim in the desert, 'Thy wife hath conceived,' still this was done not without marital union and not without the seed of man" (same source). "One should not revere the saints above what is proper, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, She was prepared to take part in the Divine Economy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foolishly to offend the Holy Virgin" (St. Epiphanius, "Against the Antidikomarionites"). The Orthodox Church, highly exalting the Mother of God in its hymns of praise, does not dare to ascribe to Her that which has not been communicated about Her by Sacred Scripture or Tradition. "Truth is foreign to all overstatements as well as to all understatements. It gives to everything a fitting measure and fitting place" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov).[14]

Bulgakov's reply and the episcopal conference, 1937

Bulgakov responded to the heresy accusation in his Dokladnaia zapiska Mitropolitu Evlogiiu prof. prot. Sergiia Bulgakova (Paris, 1936). Archbishop Seraphim then rebutted Bulgakov in his Zashchita sofianskoi eresi (Sofia, 1937). No final report was prepared on the sophiology controversy by the commission set up by Bulgakov's own jurisdiction. However, Metropolitan Evlogy convoked a bishops' conference on 26–29 November 1937 to bring closure to the matter. The bishops in their statement were working from reports by Archimandrite Cassian (Bezobrazov) and Chetverikov and they concluded that the accusations of heresy against Bulgakov were unfounded but that his theological opinions showed serious flaws and needed correction.

Inclined toward universalism

Bulgakov in some respects sympathized with the doctrine of universal reconciliation, with the reservation that the continuing punishment of the immortal souls of the wicked in hell may be unending since human free choice can never be destroyed.[15]

Political views

There is conflict in the studies regarding how conservative Bulgakov was. A classmate of Bulgakov's said he had been called a "jingoistic monarchist" and that he did not attend discussion groups. Together with Petr Struve, Bulgakov founded the illegal liberal Union of Liberation (which later emerged as the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party, the largest party in Russia between 1906–1907), and was one of the key persons in the journal Liberation (1902–1905). Because of the circle's secularism, which conflicted with Bulgakov's religious views, he left the society to join the liberal nationalist and socio-Christian Union of Christian Politics. When that circle was dissolved Bulgakov was more active in the Orthodoxy, so his leanings became liberal conservative.[16][17]


  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2002). The Lamb of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 531. ISBN 0-8028-2779-9.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2004). The Comforter. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co. p. 398. ISBN 0-8028-2112-X.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2002). Bride of the Lamb. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co. p. 531. ISBN 0-567-08871-5.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2009). The Burning Bush: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-8028-4574-0.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2003). The Friend of the Bridegroom: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Forerunner. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co. p. 190. ISBN 0-8028-4979-2.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (1988). The Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 195. ISBN 0-88141-051-9.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (1993). Sophia, the Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-940262-60-7.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (1997). The Holy Grail and the Eucharist. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Books. p. 156. ISBN 0-940262-81-9.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2008). Churchly Joy: Orthodox Devotions for the Church Year. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-8028-4834-5.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2010). Jacob's ladder: on angels. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2011). Relics and Miracles. Two Theological Essays. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2012). Icons and The Name of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co.
  • Bulgakov, Sergius (2012). Unfading Light. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co.
  • Bulgakov, Sergei (1899). A Contribution to the Question of the Capitalist Evolution of Agriculture. Published in nos. 1–3 of the magazine Nachalo in January–March 1899.
  • Bulgakov, Sergei (1969). Father Sergius Bulgakov, 1871-1944: a collection of articles. London: Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, [1969]
  • Bulgakov, Sergei (2000). Philosophy of Economy. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300079906.
  • Bulgakov, S. N. (1995). Apocatastasis and transfiguration : comprising his essay "On the question of the apocatastasis of the Fallen Spirits" (B. Jakim, Trans.). New Haven: Variable Press.
  • James Z. Pain, Nicolas (Ed.) (1976), Sergius Bulgakov. A Bulgakov Anthology. London.
  • Rowan Williams (Ed.) (1999), Sergii Bulgakov. Towards a Russian Political Theology. Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd.

See also


  1. "Bulgakov". Collins English Dictionary.
  2. George Vernadsky, The Mongols and Russia, Yale University Press (1943), p. 384
  3. Catherine Evtuhov, The Cross & the Sickle: Sergei Bulgakov and the Fate of Russian Religious Philosophy, Cornell University Press (1997), p. 23
  4. Judith Deutsch Kornblatt & Richard F. Gustafson, Russian Religious Thought, Univ of Wisconsin Press (1996), p. 135
  5. Rowan Williams, "General introduction" in Sergii Nikolaevich Bulgakov, Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology, A&C Black (1999), p. 3
  6. Russian Religious Thought edited by Judith Deutsch Kornblatt and Richard F. Gustafson. Univ of Wisconsin Press (1996). p.135
  7. "Sergei Bulgakov » News from different disciplines". 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  8. Bogatzky, Nikolay (2017). "A "gung-ho" approach towards Sophic Economy" (PDF). Economic Alternatives. Sofia: UNWE Publishing Complex. Issue 1: 160–186. ISSN 2367-9409.
  9. For commentary, texts and a fuller account of the sophiological controversy see Antoine Arjakovsky, Essai sur le père Serge Boulgakov (1871-1944), philosophe et théologien chrétien (Paris: Les Éditions Parole et Silence, 2006), pp. 99-125 and La génération des penseurs religieux de l’émigration Russe: La Revue ‘La Voie’ (Put’), 1925-1940 (Kiev/Paris: L’Esprit et la Lettre, 2002), pp. 433 ff., N. T. Eneeva, Spor o sofiologii v russkom zarubezh’e 1920-1930 godov (Moscow: Institut vseobshchei istorii RAN, 2001), Igumen Gennadii (Eikalovich), Delo prot. Sergiia Bulgakova: Istoricheskaia kanva spora o Sofii (San Francisco: Globus Pub., 1980), Bryn Geffert, ‘Sergii Bulgakov, The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, Intercommunion and Sofiology’, Revolutionary Russia, 17:1 (June 2004), pp.105-41, ‘The Charges of Heresy Against Sergii Bulgakov: The Majority and Minority Reports of Evlogii’s Commission and the Final Report of the Bishops’ Conference’, St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 49.1-2 (2005), pp.47-66 and especially Alexis Klimoff, ‘Georges Florovsky and the Sophiological Controversy’, St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 49.1-2 (2005), pp.67-100.
  10. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1964); p. 184.
  11. Protopresbyter George Grabbe, "Toward a History of the Ecclesiastical Divisions Within the Russian Diaspora", in: Living Orthodoxy, Vol. XIV, No. 4, July–August, 1992, pp. 37-39
  12. Protopresbyter George Grabbe, Toward a History of the Ecclesiastical Divisions Within the Russian Diaspora, In: Living Orthodoxy, Vol. XIV, No. 4, July–August, 1992, p. 38
  13. Protopresbyter George Grabbe, Toward a History of the Ecclesiastical Divisions Within the Russian Diaspora, In: Living Orthodoxy, Vol. XIV, No. 4, July–August, 1992, p. 38
  14. St. John Maximovitch, "The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God"., (Platina, Ca: St. Herman Press, 1978), p. 40 ff.
  15. Sergeĭ Nikolaevich Bulgakov The Orthodox Church intro page xiii 1988 "God does not punish; he forgives. Sinful creatures may refuse His forgiveness. This refusal (which may be unending since human free choice can never be destroyed) makes hell to be hell. In a word, God has mercy on all, whether all like." See also S.N. Bulgakov, S. N. (1995). Apocatastasis and transfiguration : comprising his essay "On the question of the apocatastasis of the Fallen Spirits" (B. Jakim, Trans.). New Haven: Variable Press.
  16. Sakwa, Richard (2002). Russian politics and society. Routledge. ISBN 9780415227537.
  17. Valliere, Paul (2000). Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 9780567087553.

Further reading

  • R. Williams, Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology (1999) Continuum.
  • N. Zernov, The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century (1963)
  • L. Zander, God and the world (2 vols. 1948) [Russian text] (a survey of Bulgakov's thought)
  • Imperial Moscow University: 1755-1917: encyclopedic dictionary. Moscow: Russian political encyclopedia (ROSSPEN). A. Andreev, D. Tsygankov. 2010. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-5-8243-1429-8.
  • Paul Valliere, "Modern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov : Orthodox theology in a new key." (2000) Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
  • Robert F. Slesinksi, "The Theology of Sergius Bulgakov" (2017) New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press
  • Brandon Gallaher, "Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology" Oxford 2016: Oxford University Press [on Sergii Bulgakov, Karl Barth, and Hans Urs von Balthasar]
  • Walter N. Sisto, "The Mother of God in the Theology of Sergius Bulgakov. The Soul of the World." (2017) London: Routledge.
  • Mikhail Sergeev, "Sophiology in Russian Orthodoxy: Solov'ev, Bulgakov, Losskii, and Berdiaev." (2006) Lewiston N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.
  • Catherine Evtuhov, "The cross and the sickle. Sergei Bulgakov and the fate of Russian religious philosophy." (1997) Ithaca etc.: Cornell University Press.
  • Sergij Bulgakov, "Bibliographie. Werke, Briefwechsel und Übersetzungen" (B. Hallensleben & R. Zwahlen Eds. Vol. 3). (2017) Münster: Aschendorff Verlag. (Bibliography with Russian titles and German translation).
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